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The tough-guy realism and casual nihilism of Thom Jones, Denis Johnson, and Larry Brown (among others) is finding its expression in a second generation of new writers who often sacrifice the subtleties of language for the perfection of the pose. Such is the case with first-timer Lattimore. A typical Lattimore character will wonder out loud if we start life doomed or work our way there. Such white-trash philosophes include the aging slacker of the title story, who tried work once, didn't like it, and now lives in an inherited house with a young boy abandoned by his father, who doesn't seem to be returning any time soon. The depths of meanness surface in ""Dogs,"" in which the narrator recalls locking a friend in a cage and peeing on him; long-simmering anger is the ""sport"" of ""Family Sport""; here, the narrator's mother is losing touch with reality, and her father is not taking the change well. Cruelty is at the black heart of ""My Best Day Was the Third Grade,"" a rich man's memory of his childhood nastiness. The expectant father of ""Answer Me This"" considers splitting, then ends up in a fight at a 7-11. The result of disappearing parents is seen in ""Jarheads,"" about the son of a battered many-times married mom who makes some unlikely friends; and in ""Separate States,"" about a confused girl who lives with her long-gone mother's ex-husband, an uncommonly good dad, it turns out. The long ""Between Angels"" strikes a surprisingly slapstick note--it's the comic tale of a gangster's quest for proof of the existence of God as revealed by the Ark of the Covenant, supposedly stored in an L.A. warehouse. More tales from loserville by a promising, if somewhat derivative, newcomer.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1997
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin